Mouthy Monday

We’ve long been finding remains of toothy beasts among the various phases of occupation in Trench 3, from the Iron Age roundhouse habitation, to early medieval industrial area, to late medieval rubbish pile. The cattle were driven up into the fortress on the hoof, and they were likely butchered somewhere in the West Ward. On the large cattle bones, we occasionally find obvious cut marks where de-fleshing occurred, as well as chopped long bones that were broken open likely for access to the marrow. The nicest cuts of meat would be brought up to the top of the mount during the early medieval period, while the artisans based in the area of our trench were getting the less beefy bits: we find a lot of cranium bits, jaws, loose teeth, vertebrae (back bones), phalanges (the equivalent of finger bones), and the ends of long bones (like the femur and tibia). We also find the remains of horses on occasion, but those seem to mostly comprise cranial fragments and some foot bones. In the material we’ve just washed from 2019, we’ve found more teeth than usual from a context dating to the 8th century near the mortar mixer.

Cows have incisors only on the lower jaw, so when they chew, they cut their veg against a pad in their upper jaw. The bits of jaw we’ve found contain cheek teeth (premolars and molars). Fully-grown cattle have 12 premolars and 12 molars, and they need those molars to allow them to grind up grass and chew cud. We can get a rough idea of the age the individual was when it was butchered by looking at the teeth! The modern cattle industry ages their animals by looking at the incisors, but we can still gather some information from these cheek teeth.

Check out this bit of jaw above. We have two massive teeth still set in place, and they seem to be very worn. Wear may be different from one individual to another based on their diet and genetic predisposition. In addition, the wear pattern can also be compared to various animal husbandry guides that use dental data to predict age. The hollow below the roots of the teeth were where permanent teeth were waiting to erupt, but this channel seems to have healed over, also suggesting this animal was an older individual.

Upper horse jaw.

A second bit of jaw, possibly horse, is equally interesting: this individual has worn teeth above the jawline and former gum, but a permanent tooth waiting beneath each milk tooth. Milk teeth are what many call “baby teeth,” or, more scientifically, “deciduous teeth.” The cheek teeth of horses consist of 12 premolars and 12 molars, just like cows. In horses, there are no temporary molars, so the fact that we have a cap of milk tooth above a permanent tooth tells us we’ve got premolars soon to be replaced. Their teeth are constantly erupting their whole lives, replacing the worn down surfaces of the long permanent teeth. The permanent premolars of horses erupt between 2 to 4 years of age depending on mouth location, so this specimen is likely under 4 years old.

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